2013 mobile preview: Courtroom peace and marketplace war

It has been a busy year in mobile. 2012 was the year that saw Android establish a clear lead by closing in on a 75 percent share of the smartphone market. Samsung and Apple topped the manufacturer charts and duked it out in the courtroom. Microsoft hoped it would be third time lucky with Windows Phone 8. Tablets got smaller, smartphones got bigger, and the market for both just kept on growing.

On the verge of 2013, it’s time to cast your eyes forward and take a look at the year ahead. What are the big trends going to be? Who will be making major moves in mobile? We think it’s still a bit too early for widespread adoption of wearable tech or flexible displays, and it’s a bit too late to herald the arrival of mobile payments even if they haven’t really caught on yet, but there’s still plenty to get excited about.

BlackBerry 10 launch

It’s no secret that RIM has had a tough year. The eulogies have been rolling in thick and fast, but under new CEO, Thorsten Heins, the company has been quietly working away on BlackBerry 10. The new platform has been described as RIM’s last roll of the dice and it might well be. Market share has been dwindling for a while now, but RIM also just announced its first ever drop in worldwide subscribers as 1 million people abandoned the platform, taking its total down to 79 million subscribers.

Various carriers around the world have already announced that they will be offering new BB 10 devices. The launch event has been scheduled for January 30. Early demos and leaks have been promising and RIM’s traditional base in the enterprise is already road-testing the new platform. It hasn’t rushed to market this time and BB 10 has real potential. If the platform can claw back some market share from Android, or even iOS, then it will be the comeback story of the year.

Augmented reality

It has been around for a while now, but 2013 could be the year when augmented reality apps and games really take off. More and more people have capable smartphones and tablets, advertisers are clamoring to deploy AR in marketing, and wearable tech could prove to be the catalyst that spurs AR onward. Juniper Research is predicting that AR will generate $300 million in 2013 as it builds momentum towards 2.5 billion annual app and game downloads within five years.

Platforms like Metaio are offering an AR platform that brands can easily adopt and they report strong growth, however, it could be another year or two before AR is truly widespread. The ascent starts in 2013, but it won’t reach its zenith for a few years yet.

Cloud apps and services

The cloud has been generating a deafening buzz as it is held up as a panacea for the business world. Thanks to a perfect storm of enabling factors, it will also be having a great impact on the consumer world in 2013. The expansion of 4G LTE networks, improvements in Wi-Fi technology and hotspot availability, and lightweight demands in terms of installation and storage overhead, should drive cloud-connected apps and services in the coming year.

Expect to see Sony’s acquisition of Gaikai bear fruit in terms of mobile gaming as high-end releases come to smartphones. We’ll also see more people relying on service like Google Music to store and stream content. Syncing across devices is another important development that makes life easier – you read, watch, or play something on your tablet in the morning, pick it up on your smartphone as you commute, and finish it off on your computer when you reach work. The local device is just an entry point for content that we expect to be available and synced across the board.

Web adapts to mobile

In 2013 smartphones and tablets will surpass PCs to become the most commonly used devices for accessing the Internet. The impact of mobile on the Internet can already be seen. Most major websites now have a dedicated mobile version; some are being simplified overall with mobile screens as a primary concern. Mobile apps are still a vitally important link between devices and the web and we don’t think the much-vaunted HTML5 is in a position to usurp traditional apps with web apps for a good while yet.

Content curation and easy navigation are becoming more and more important for a web that focusses on the needs of mobile users first.

Real smartphone competition

If you thought 2012 was a competitive year in mobile you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. As smartphones reach saturation point in certain markets like the U.S., we’re going to see companies battle each other harder than ever before. When the market stops growing, market share becomes more meaningful.

Android and iOS could have some real competition in the shape of Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10. Analysts have been predicting an increased market share for Microsoft for years now, in 2013 we’ll find out for sure. We’ve also got a flurry of new devices to look forward to from the Samsung Galaxy S4 to the iPhone 5S. We may even see the long rumored Amazon smartphone or a WP8 device from Microsoft. HTC, LG, and Sony have all made noises about claiming third place behind Samsung and Apple. Game on!

An end to the patent madness

We are hopeful that the patent wars might be settled once and for all in 2013. Various judges have expressed a desire to end the steady stream of patent infringement lawsuits pouring into their courtrooms. Definitive decisions on fair licensing terms look closer than ever, most of the Android manufacturers have signed agreements, and the ongoing fight is not enhancing reputations with consumers. Much depends on Apple’s willingness to settle.

If 2012 was the year of the patent wars, then we have our fingers crossed that 2013 will see a lasting peace and the big tech players can get back to focusing on making us irresistible gadgets. We wouldn’t advise your holding breath for this, though.

Tablets, tablets everywhere

We’ll see more tablets, we’ll see prices drop further, and we’ll see sales rocket in 2013 as tablets usurp smartphones, becoming the fastest selling tech devices. As smartphones grow and tablets shrink we may see more of a blurring of the line between the two, something that “phablets” like the Galaxy Note 2 and Droid DNA are already out.

We’ll also see the BYOD trend continue to grow and tablets will become increasingly common in the workplace and in education. We can expect that trend to fuel a developer drive toward apps and services for the enterprise and education sector. There’s plenty of room for improvement.

More mobile predictions for 2013

We think quite a few other mobile features will see a steady rise in popularity in 2013. NFC should roll out on more devices and we’ll see that functionality exploited in more ways, beyond mobile payments. In terms of mobile payments, expect a few competitors to offer cloud-based digital wallets and alternative tech to NFC as consumer adoption and confidence grows slowly. Wireless charging is also set to grow in stature over the coming year and it will be interesting to see how many businesses decide to offer facilities.

No doubt there will be a few surprises as well. Let’s hope so, because that’s what keeps things interesting. Got a suggestion or hunch of your own? Post a comment and share your mobile predictions for 2013.

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